Autodidact: self-taught

Oct
24
2012

Baudelaire Was a Rather Intense Fellow

by V. L. Craven

Charles Pierre Baudelaire (1821-1867) French poet most well-known for Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) and the first person to translate Edgar Allan Poe’s work into French.

An aesthete and dandy, he believed (and practised) in the pleasures of the senses. This led him to possibly contract syphilis and gonorrhea. Oh well.

Like Virginia Woolf, he believed art should capture the small, ephemeral moments of life. Unlike Woolf, he was of an impressively cynical mindset and loved him some irony. Though a cynic, he also believed people were fundamentally good. (A view he and I share. They may seem to be diametrically opposed, but, though the world seems harsh and awful, we also believe that it can be better–that man has the capacity to improve and to rise above.)

Similarly to holding seemingly contradictory worldviews, The Flowers of Evil is both grotesque and beautiful with several poems focusing on the putrefaction of the physical body after death whilst carrying on to wax lyrical on the beauty of life. This could be stomach-churning to the faint of disposition, but makes sense in that one can’t fully appreciate life if one isn’t intensely aware of death.

The juxtaposition of death and living life vigorously–and lending a poetic beauty to both–is echoed in Nine Inch Nails lyrics. Reznor’s words can be nauseating but simultaneously truthful and evocative and can express both disgust and a deep affection for a woman, much like Baudelaire. Both have also been reviled by the masses as being immoral and disgusting, but celebrated by those aware of the true nature of existence.

When initially published, Les Fleurs du Mal was receiving well amongst the literary set though several poems were removed prior to publication being deemed obscene (including one about lesbianism). However, most of his work was published after his death.

My favourite thing about Baudelaire is that, when acquainted with Poe’s stories, he felt Poe was expressing thoughts in his own mind that had not fully formed. That feeling of intellectual companionship is something readers most look for, I think. We read to find people of our own views and whims, but who more beautifully articulate those views and whims. We read to find friends without regard to nationality or age. And I’m glad to have found a friend in good old Baudey.

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